After a 30-year rise, the percentage of obese and overweight elementary school children in Mississippi is going down, according to Jill Morris, chair of the DeSoto County Community Health Council, which is a program of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. The Center for Mississippi Health Policy reported a 13 percent drop from 2005 to 2011. This news was celebrated at the annual meeting of Healthy Kids Healthy Communities held this summer in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi’s Healthy Kids Healthy Communities project was represented at the national meeting with project director Peggy Linton, Regional Health Coordinator Stacye Rawlings, and contractor Shelly Johnstone attending. Representatives from each of the 50 Healthy Kids Healthy Communities projects from throughout the nation were present.

Healthy Kids Healthy Communities is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is directed by Active Living By Design, a part of the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill.

The Community Foundation received a four-year Healthy Kids Healthy Communities grant in December 2009 to work on policies and environmental changes that lead to healthy eating and active living in DeSoto, Tate and Marshall counties. “These three counties were selected as the ‘community’ because they are within the Coldwater River Watershed and were already doing work on the issue of childhood obesity prevention,” stated Linton. This annual meeting was to cultivate and maximize learning opportunities for the participants throughout the meeting time with each learning activity and session addressing common issues relevant to childhood obesity, vulnerable populations and communities, and urban and rural perspectives and community engagement.

Dwayne Proctor, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J, addressed the participants and highlighted the work that has taken place over the last 3 ½ years of Healthy Kids Healthy Communities. He praised the work being done in all states, but especially those where a reduction in childhood obesity has been documented, and this year included Mississippi.

“We will continue our work at the Community Foundation through Healthy Kids Healthy Communities, Get A Life!, the Regional Health Council and each of the eight Community Health Councils,” stated Linton. “The Community Foundation has targeted childhood obesity since 2005, and we are not yet where we need to be in northwest Mississippi, so our work will continue. We are proud to work with many partners (organizations) that are making a difference in communities throughout our region.”

Healthy Kids Healthy Communities of DeSoto, Tate and Marshall Counties’ mission is to assist communities in building healthier lifestyles through policy and environmental changes that lead to healthy eating and active living.  The program is part of the national Healthy Kids Healthy Communities initiative, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  To learn more go to Healthy Kids Healthy Communities.